Automation is a driver of growth in the manufacturing industry. Manufacturers chase the goal of enforcing higher productivity and switching to cost-effective approaches, and automation has every capacity to achieve just that.
Nowadays, manufacturing has hit a new benchmark in terms of automation, with cutting-edge technology playing a significant role almost everywhere across the board. Top giants like Bosch, Siemens, and Caterpillar are leading the line, constantly coming up with innovative ideas for how to optimize their processes. In this article, we gathered the main trends of automation in the manufacturing industry. Hopefully, some of them may be applicable to your business!
Increased Use of Autonomous Mobile Robots
Autonomous robots have appeared at dozens upon dozens of modern factories and have since taken over in taking care of a great share of monotonous tasks. AMRs can pick, pack and sort parts and production itself, transport goods, etc. This machinery isn’t just called “autonomous”: it has the capacity to act independently and make decisions on its own, thanks to artificial intelligence.
Thus, the manufacturers win in cost reduction, as significant parts of labor activity that previously demanded complete human involvement can now be fully or largely executed by robots. The employees’ safety also benefits as harmful or dangerous tasks can be successfully reassigned to robots, and humans won’t need to interact with dangerous equipment or access hazardous areas.
Usually, AMRs are divided into the following 4 categories:
- goods-to-person picking robots: they are usually used to move carts through the warehouses and other premises through flexible routes;
- self-driving forklifts: smart forklifts that can manage repetitive load-handling without any human involvement;
- autonomous inventory robots: another type of smart robot that can run inventory monitoring and count regularly, and hence, provide real-time data on inventory stocks;
- unmanned aerial vehicles: or simply, drones that help scan and monitor warehouse environments for the purposes of mapping, inventory monitoring, and safety reports.
According to Globe Newswire, the market of AMRs will only be growing worldwide, from 1.97 billion USD in 2021 to 8.7 billion USD in 2028. The lack of workforce caused by global pandemics pushed manufacturers to review their operations and resort to robotics as the main form of automation in manufacturing.
Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT is a promising technology that empowers the shift to global automation in manufacturing and other fields. Smart sensors that are the essence of IoT guarantee a seamless data exchange between machines, computers, and humans.
It creates a new stage in factory operations, when every process, from assembly lines to supply chain and distribution can be monitored and analyzed. Manufacturers get data on the whole factory in real-time and actually get an opportunity to make changes before there is equipment downtime or unwise usage of resources.
IoT brings the most value when it is being combined with other frontier technologies like robotics, AI, etc. For example, the manufacturer can change the program of the IoT-powered robot remotely, or get detailed log data on its performance.
Enterprise Resource Planning
ERP systems are vital for any business that strives for better performance and enhanced collaboration, but it’s notably extremely important for manufacturers. Enterprise resource planning software can help all the departments (sales, marketing, finance, manufacturing, supply chain – you name it), serving as a bridge within the single company and working as a common database. Depending on the access levels/permissions, employees can be granted access to the common data of the entire enterprise.
ERP software is a basis for automation in manufacturing, as it ensures that data storage and exchange will be efficient and accessible for everyone, so no more “data silos” or miscommunications! However, with a custom manufacturing ERP system you can go even deeper:
- integrated predictive analytics may help you get better insight into your manufacturing operations, downsides, and bottlenecks;
- IoT may help you overcome the main challenge and simplify data generation and managing, as the data will be automatically transported to the ERP system and more likely to be uncorrupted since the human factor will be left out;
- artificial intelligence may heavily impact accounting and finance, sales, marketing by enabling chat-bots, thorough data analysis, and planning of production.
An ERP tailored to the particular needs of your manufacturing specifics is capable of revolutionizing the performance of your company: reducing expenses, improving productivity, and ensuring a data-driven approach to operations. Unfortunately, ready-made solutions rarely offer the level of customization needed to maximize the benefits of such software, but custom development, on the other hand, can definitely solve this problem. Altamira offers custom ERP development and implementation, as well as an option to upgrade your existing legacy application if you have one.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution brought manufacturing to a whole new level of modernization as old-school plants were turned into smart factories — innovative, interconnected production facilities that leveraged cutting-edge technologies to the maximum.
The idea behind Industry 4.0 is in joining connectivity and manufacturing automation technology in the four walls of any factory. The aforementioned IoT was the first sign of this trend when Germany first started to research and fund the phenomena we now call Industry 4.0. Nowadays, more and more smart factories appear in the US, European countries, and in China.
Globally, the manufacturing industry is now moving towards total automation. It might take a long period of time till we reach the level of factories described in science fiction, but a significant shift is already underway. A lot of products are now made with the help of robots, smart sensors, and various forms of AI.
It’s only logical that this trend will expand and more and more companies will embrace new technologies — or otherwise, they won’t withstand the competition from others. The statistics actually claim the same: according to Mordor Intelligence, the global market of smart factories will grow from being 270 billion USD in 2020 to 461 billion in 2026 — a more than twofold increase.
Expanded Use of Machine Vision
Machine vision can basically be described as the capability to perceive and comprehend the environment. It requires one or a few cameras, analog-to-digital conversion (ADC), and digital signal processing (DSP). In the end, the computer is able to understand what object or what processes are happening around and apply this data further, so all of the other necessary measures can be taken by other machines or humans.
In manufacturing, this technology is widely implemented at factories. Machine vision enables computers to differentiate environments no worse than humans, but machines have a great advantage: they can do it faster, they don’t get tired or lose acuity and focus.
Here are a few examples of the real applications of machine vision for automation in manufacturing:
- barcode reading: barcodes are extremely important to streamline production, as with their help, systems may track every single product and its progress;
- quality assurance: machine vision can detect defects and faults of the product, before it gets out of the production line, and send a notification to the respective employee;
- ensuring safety: if machine vision gets a full view of the factory, it can detect not only the objects but people as well; whenever an employee enters a hazardous zone or is in jeopardy of injury, the system will notify the safety officer;
- inventory management: the system can also keep a count of inventory levels, provide exact count and inform ahead of time when any material is running out and needs restocking.
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are other crucial solutions for Industry 4.0. Digital twins, robots, predictive maintenance, and many other major widely spread technologies won’t be possible, if not AI.
Manufacturers now are able to generate a big amount of data through IoT sensors, ERP systems, or other solutions. But without rapid, and accurate cleaning and processing, it loses its potential and transforms into dead weight. However, AI and ML can add value to the data, whether by forecasting, a thorough examination of your current processes, or prototyping.
AI opens new opportunities for manufacturers to make their production smarter and center their business decision-making around the analysis and predictive approaches. Here are the most popular AI applications and how their importance is expected to grow further, according to PwC:
On the other hand, embracing AI is a challenging commitment for any company. Your main goal would be to establish and ensure three main points: seamless data management, employees’ ability to adapt, and the availability of necessary expertise in the AI field. Altamira may help you cover these objectives through the following means:
- we offer custom development of AI software, and our business analyst team approaches the question thoroughly: usually, we run big preliminary research on the Discovery stage, while also keeping in mind business considerations throughout the development;
- we can integrate AI and ML features into your existing business intelligence tools, hence, facilitate the adoption of new technologies for your employees and reduce their stress and distrust of the new software.
Predictive maintenance is a game-changer in the domain of equipment support. It works at the junction of two main technologies, IoT and AI, and actually predicts when the machine is most likely to break down. By obtaining this information, manufacturers can run maintenance precisely and prevent downtimes and accidents before they happen.
Usually, it works in the following way: IoT sensors are installed on a certain piece of equipment. Every now and then, based on the data gathered by sensors, the system issues reports. If any abnormality is detected, the system alerts employees or initiates the repair process itself.
In the end, predictive maintenance is one of the most cost-saving measures of automation in manufacturing. It can save at least 200 billion USD for manufacturers by 2025, according to McKinsey Global Institute on the Internet of Things. Equipment downtime costs factories thousands of dollars every hour, so it’s in their best interest to avoid any breakdowns that will block the production.
Moreover, apart from the benefits we’ve already mentioned, predictive maintenance guarantees that machines are actually safe and won’t cause any on-the-job injuries.
Supply Chain Technology
The supply chain is no less important than the factories themselves in the manufacturing industry. There are also plenty of mundane and repetitive tasks involved that are prone to human errors, all of which make it another candidate for manufacturing process automation.
Some even say that the future of supply chain and logistics will be determined by automation, and we would like to side with that thought. COVID-19 unlocked the potential of these trends, revealing that this industry is ready for and in dire need of technical reinvention of the core processes.
Source: Visual Capitalist
With the same stack of technologies we are talking about here, the supply chain can automate its three main parts:
- back office: implement automatic document procurement, employee onboarding, accounts receivables management, etc.;
- transportation: monitor the movement of your goods and vehicles in real-time, predict possible delays and use autonomous trucks and drones to reduce delivery time and gain more flexibility;
- warehouse: establish efficient data flow to keep track of the inventory; this way, you can identify out-of-stock goods faster and swiftly replenish them before it becomes a problem; and finally, optimize the usage of space.
Automate Your Production with Altamira
Altamira is an experienced vendor for manufacturing companies. Our business analysts can help you navigate the world of automation and choose the most suitable options for your business, while our development team can provide you with sufficient expertise to develop and implement cutting-edge solutions for your factory.
We can facilitate the implementation of the manufacturing automation technology with:
- ERP development, upgrading, or integration with additional technologies;
- IoT-powered software development to maximize the value of your hardware pieces;
- implantation of AI-related services for manufacturing: robotic process automation, predictive maintenance, computer vision, sensor data analytics.
Here are some of our major cases in this field:
- custom construction management system Leo: a highly functional application for manufacturers of concrete materials that automates repetitive tasks of data management and implements full lifecycle tracking to every component of every project;
- order management system for the manufacturer and installer of special parts for public service transport such as ambulances or police cars; the custom-developed system automates the link between the company and end-client, significantly reducing the time required for this link-up process;
- uber-like application Aquiline Drones: through this app, users may order a drone flight service and remotely manage the camera on the drone; though the app wasn’t created for manufacturing purposes, we can transfer our experience to develop software for drones at your factory or warehouse.
Whether you need to develop web or mobile software, we got you covered. Our tech stack includes the following technologies:
|Python, PHP, Node.js, Laravel, Yii
|Kotlin, Java, Android SDK
|Swift, IOS SDK
Automation is a big leap in the new age of manufacturing. No more losses due to negligence, human errors, or inefficient human management. Instead, manufacturers have great opportunities to speed up the production cycle, eliminate the human factors by wisely and correctly automating and streamlining processes, thereby achieving greater productivity and quality by adopting these new technologies.
Automation in manufacturing is already a proven recipe for market dominance, so maybe it’s time to cross this line at last?